FEBRUARY 1, 2013
Since it sold like 8 million copies or something, I'm sure more than a couple of you own Live's "Throwing Copper" album, so maybe at least ONE of you can sympathize with me - every time I see a poster for Warm Bodies, I get the song "Pillar of Davidson" stuck in my head ("WAAAAAAAARM BODIES I, SENSE...."). I bring it up because the soundtrack is actually pretty great for the movie, however I am aware that my musical taste is not considered to be the best, so your mileage may vary. In fact you might hate every song in the movie (it's mostly 80s stuff like "Missing You" from John Wait and GnR's "Patience", plus some modern indie rock like Feist and The National), but luckily there's still plenty to enjoy in this surprisingly charming and endearing zom-rom-com.
The film may exist because of Twilight (it's from Summit, the same studio that gave us that now over series and thus needs to fill a gap in the "supernatural romance" genre), but the book it's based on is very much a takeoff on Romeo & Juliet (ugh, I just realized some lazy hack will title his review "Romero & Juliet"), with the same basic tale of lovers who are from opposing sides of a war, except in this case "Romeo" is a zombie and Julie(t) is not. Known simply as "R" because he can no longer remember his full name or how he died, our hero is capable of normal thought, and can utter a few words ("City", "Food"), which sets him apart from his fellow, aimless zombies. Upon meeting Julie (and eating her boyfriend's brain, which gives him the dead man's memories), something sparks, and as the film progresses he becomes more and more human-like, something that starts to "infect" the rest of the zombies.
However she doesn't quite get this right away, and thus a good chunk of the film's first half is dedicated to him trying to communicate and earning her trust. But of course, her dad is the general that is hellbent on killing all zombies, and therein lies the conflict. But it's not played much for drama, this is very much a rom-com, albeit with a technically grim backdrop. Only one person of note dies in the movie, and it's not until the end that there's any real action, courtesy of the "boneys", which are zombies that have long since shed any of their humanity - they're basically skeletal ghouls (and fairly scary, all things considered). They're the real threat in the movie, and as the trailers basically spoil, eventually the humans and basic zombies band together to fight them. But this isn't a war movie; the focus is always on the budding relationship between R and Julie, which hits all the expected beats but does so with charm to spare. Both Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult are engaging and likable performers (if you haven't seen a much younger Hoult in About A Boy, you're truly missing out - it's the best movie of anyone involved), and their chemistry more than makes up for the fact that, yeah, change him from a zombie to a "poor kid" or whatever and this is every "Girl torn between her new boyfriend and domineering father" movie ever made.
Where it DOES truly surprise is the humor, which plays with zombie conventions and gets a lot of mileage out of Hoult's "normal" voiceover, which comments on their slow speed, his wardrobe ("Judging by my hoodie, I was probably unemployed"), and the world around him, never intruding on the narrative and often causing me to laugh loudly, or at least chuckle. And his best friend is played by Rob Corddry, who you don't hire to not be funny - in some ways it's more fun watching him grow "human" than Hoult, because he morphs from a typical zombie into, well, Rob Corddry, the hilarious comic actor who can get the movie its best laugh without even trying. Analeigh Tipton also scores a few good laughs as Palmer's best friend, including one that appears to be a meta joke about montages in movies. I was a bit bummed that John Malkovich (as the general, if that needed to be clarified) was a. playing it straight and b. sidelined for most of the film, as I was hoping he'd get a chance to have fun and chew scenery, but it's pretty much the same you'd expect to see him acting in a completely dramatic, non-fantastical film.
My only other minor complaint was that it felt a bit pared down; I haven't read the book but I'm sure there were things in the movie that probably were shout-outs to those who have, and just sort of stuck out here. There's a pair of kid zombies that get two meaningful closeups but no follow-through, and one zombie gets a sort of epilogue that suggests he was once a more prominent character (this is only the second time we've seen him, really). I also had some questions about some of the film's final reveals that I obviously can't spoil here, but here's one for those who have seen it, sans context for those who haven't: scars? I'm sure these things made more sense/were fleshed out in the book, but with a runtime of 90 minutes or so (plus credits), they had time to put some of it into the movie. They're after the Twi-crowd, and all those things ran over two hours - surely the kids could have sat still for another 10 minutes or so, right?
Who has read the book? Tell me if it has more about brain eating, because if so I'll go buy it right now. I love the "rule" here - a zombie can eat a living person's flesh, and that person will come back, OR they can eat his brains and be more nourished, but also get their memories which can be traumatic depending on the user. There's a whole movie in the idea of a zombie walking around with the memories of a dozen different people, taking the place of his own (and his inability to dream, as zombies don't sleep). The other rules are pretty much straight out of Romero: headshots are mandatory, the undead move slowly, and they all sort of go back to their routines from their past lives, but this was a new twist to the formula that I quite liked.
But don't let that mislead you. In case you haven't figured it out yet - this is not a full blown zombie movie; while things like Shaun of the Dead and ROTLD struck a pretty good balanced between the laughs and the carnage, this is a straight up comedy/romance, closer to the French film They Came Back than those others. The "power of love" concept might not sit too well with zombie purists (even with a shoutout to Fulci and a pretty hilarious throwaway sight gag involving Palmer's attempts to "blend"), but it's not aimed at them. As with Twilight and vampires (or werewolves), this can act as a fine "gateway" to those who have yet to experience a zombie film (the PG-13 rating would suggest that SHOULD be the case; even I didn't see Dawn of the Dead or Zombie until I was 15 or 16), but UNLIKE those films, fans of the sub-genre should be satisfied with the respect to zombie movie history, and charmed by the film's successful attempt at taking a potentially disastrous idea and making it almost seem easy (no way I'm gonna use "no-brainer"! You deserve better!).